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Tropical Storm Elsa nears hurricane strength as it moves up Florida’s Gulf Coast

Storm expected to move across north-central Florida on Wednesday

2 PM NHC Forecast track
2 PM NHC Forecast track

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story is being archived. For the latest update as Elsa become a hurricane, visit our new tracking story.

Weather conditions are about to deteriorate in Tampa Bay which is the next closest area in the path of Tropical Strom Elsa. The storm is now expected to become a hurricane as it tracks toward Cedar Key before sunrise Wednesday.

Key West had 70 mph gusts at noon with four inches of rain after Elsa passed 50 miles west of the island.

Elsa’s top sustained winds strengthened 10 mph to 70 mph Tuesday afternoon and a hurricane warning was issued for a portion of the Gulf Coast. At 2 p.m., the National Hurricane Center said the storm was centered about 95 miles northwest of Key West and 180 miles south of Tampa. It was moving north at 9 mph.

The 2 p.m. track update showed very little change, bringing the storm across north-central Florida on Wednesday.

According to the update, a hurricane warning has been issued along the west coast of Florida from Egmont Key to the Steinhatchee River.

Slow strengthening is forecast through Tuesday night and Elsa is expected to reach hurricane strength before it makes landfall in Florida’s Big Bend on Wednesday. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has declared a state of emergency in a dozen counties, including Alachua and Columbia.

A Hurricane Watch is up for the west-central and Big Bend coast of Florida from Egmont Key to the Steinhatchee River. Tropical Storm Warnings extend inland from the Gulf Coast to include Alachua, Baker, Bradford and Columbia counties. A Tropical Storm Watch is up for western Clay, Duval and Nassau counties in Florida and Brantley, Charlton, Camden and Glynn counties in Southeast Georgia.

A Tropical Storm Watch has been issued for the Georgia coast and portions of the South Carolina coast from the Mouth of St. Marys River to South Santee River, South Carolina.

Forecasters warn that the storm could push a storm surge of water into Tampa Bay neighborhoods. Tampa International Airport plans to shut down Tuesday at 5 p.m.

ELSA: Impacts for NE Florida and SE Georgia | What you expect where you live | TRACKING THE TROPICS: Interactive map

Tropical Storm Elsa emerged from Cuba largely intact Monday night. The storm made landfall on the southern coast of Cuba early Monday afternoon and initially dropped back to 50 mph winds near the center, but it restrengthened overnight. Strengthening over the Gulf of Mexico should be limited by unfavorable westerly shear.

The NHC track forecast was nudged slightly westward with each NHC update on Monday. This track would suggest some minor impacts for Jacksonville, Northeast Florida and Southeast Georgia late Tuesday into Wednesday.

Elsa’s westward shift spared the lower Florida Keys a direct hit, but the islands were still getting plenty of rain and wind Tuesday. Tropical storm warnings were posted for the Florida Keys from Craig Key westward to the Dry Tortugas and for the west coast of Florida from Flamingo northward to the Ochlockonee River.

DeSantis has declared a state of emergency for Charlotte, Citrus, Collier, DeSoto, Hardee, Hernando, Hillsborough, Lee, Levy, Manatee, Miami-Dade, Monroe, Pasco, Pinellas and Sarasota counties. President Joe Biden has declared a federal disaster order for the same 15 counties.

Danielle Uliano breaks down 2 p.m. Tuesday NHC forecast

Elsa is the season’s fifth named storm and the first Atlantic hurricane of 2021.

Stay tuned to The Weather Authority so you won’t be caught by surprise when Elsa impacts our area later today and on Wednesday.

Tropical Storm Elsa NHC one sheet